Sunday, February 5, 2017



LIFEBOAT by Kristine Ong Muslim
(University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Manila, 2015)


"Art is repulsion floating in a bowl of soup. Sometimes it is,
the soup."

That poetry - with its rhyme, rhythm, and meter - places itself as the summa theologiae of Howard Gardner's verbal-linguistic intelligence as attested by Kristine Ong Muslim's LIFEBOAT (USTPH, 2015). From the title, one might guess that this compiles verses adoring bodies of water or testifying truths behind mermaids and underwater empires. This tome, needless to say, delves into man's concupiscence - his guilty pleasures, his aversions of gaze on what lurks in peripheral vision, and his questions he's ever-hesitant to ask the world. These aspects of "inclinations to stumble" are articulated in the ether, a celestial firmament reflecting its light back to the river's translucent pavement. This ether where Muslim flaps her wings and strikes wind to seagulls.

Her deliberate, dramatic use of anaphora does not overshadow her enviable ability to alchemize poems into cadences of sorrow and longing. And this technique is fused, with all precision, with imagery which vitalizes speculative fiction's enticements. As one of the poems says, "Everyone will / learn to paddle towards nonexistent shores. Everyone will / follow the Ferryman's trail as he searches for the submerged / continent."

Muslim is a poet of promise, that is to say, empowering people to believe in a promise held unto them. Her poetry serves as resonance of a promise meant to be fulfilled or a privilege speech crafted to inspire people to continue with their causes. The future is just loitering behind ivory-made icons enveloped in dust-stricken robes. In "City of Rivers", the speaker invites us "landlocked savages" to enter a future of nothing but riverbanks to "gurgle our prayers from now / on, calling out to the god of rivers." She then proceeded with "The One Called Sunday" exhorting "we will bury the dead so that we do not / disturb the living with each thud of spade against / overturned earth." Poems like these for sure will haunt us, as these offer us glimpses to worlds we might not be able to inhabit or villages that can hold us captive.

Everything is in its right place, in its light weight in spite of the heaviness of emotion it intends to create. Just like the lifeboat, Muslim rescues words from being led astray by incapacitated wordsmiths and verses from falling into oblivion by unguarded minstrels.

Causing worms to produce wings, showing a young woman with an empty palm, staring at a storyteller feeding birds "handfuls of nonexistent breadcrumbs", this internationally published poet continues to write down not only her observations of world's cruelty or oceans' serenity, but also, more importantly, the possibilities of conquest, reminding us that "we exist, that we / wait, that we break lifetimes against / our backs as if we still have time."


Aloysiusi Lionel Polintan is a Senior High School Coordinator of Divina Pastora College in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija. He loves reading and writing poetry, and everything that ranges from Bob Dylan to Hozier, and from Mahalia Jackson to Christina Aguilera. He is doing research on intangible cultural heritage of Southern Novo Ecijanos. He maintains a blog:  /react-text

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